Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Urban islands!

I saw Achchuvinte Amma the other day! A tolerable movie with gaping holes in the script. This is not a movie review. But something in the movie has been bothering me for some time.

There is flashback scene in the movie on Urvashi’s childhood when her caretaker, an old lady dies, leaving her at the mercy of her male employers, each one of whom tries to satiate their lust on her. The young girl escapes each time thanks to her street savvines and finally ends up in a weaving unit in Tamilnadu. At the unit she meets several girls like her or in similar circumstances. Soon the young Urvashi realizes that this was a kind of holding place for girls before they are shipped off to the Red Light area of Mumbai. The young Urvashi escapes, taking with her a two year old girl, also being held for trade at a later date.

I don’t know how many people dwelt on that scene or paused to think of the very powerful statement that the director unwittingly made with those scenes. I don’t think many! After all girls being bought and sold for flesh trade is stale news now. What doesn’t affect us doesn't bother us and we as a society do not believe in getting involved in anything other than our own family or professional affairs.

Instances of girls being sold in the flesh market are talked about in living rooms and around coffee tables. We cluck our tongues at the government’s inaction to curb the menace. Every thing and anything that ails the society is the government’s responsibility. No wonder governments themselves are under such strain in India!

With a population that does nothing or gives nothing back to the society (except taxes), but believes only in taking, no government will be able to cope up! We want our governments to function in splendid isolation so that we do not have to dirty our hands and expect wonders from this arrangement.

So what am I saying? That we leave our work and start doing social work. Yes! But you don’t need to leave your work for that. A little bit of involvement will do wonders to our country. Like in respecting public property as our own! And the right of our fellow citizens to all that we aspire for ourselves! The parasitic existence that we live now has to stop, if this country has to change what we want changed.

How do we go about that? I don’t know! But this giant populace has to get off their butts and start getting involved in matters other than their own!

If aliens were to observe India from space, what would they see? As dawn breaks over the country, massive hordes of people scurry out of their homes and stream into their workplaces. And as the evening falls, the hordes scurry back like mice to their holes. After which there is no movement visible outside the holes except perhaps for trips to the grocery store! We live in holes and do not get involved beyond our holes. It’s no wonder that people living out of the holes have a free run of the road! And we expect to outsource our social wellbeing to these people!!!

It is no wonder we are moving further and further away from each other!


mathew said...

Civic sense is like an F-word for many of us..Its plain attitude problem..If the attitude doesnt get right, then we should give a free hand to the government to force people into following it..

So many holes in the cheese will leave no cheese in the end!!

Philip said...

More social service is definitely welcome. But I don't think that we do nothing for the society when we go about our lives like mice.

The work I do contributes to the success of a company which provides employment to thousands of people - directly and indirectly. The success of the company translates to thousands of happy families. It helps the company pay tax to the government which uses the money to do something for these downtrodden people (at least that's the idea). It helps me contribute to charities where well-meaning people work for these unfortunate people.

Of course, I'm guided primarily by self-interest when I go daily to my job to earn the salary that I get. But after the gratification from self-interest washes over, the satisfaction I get is from the knowledge that I've contributed to a healthy society and that the work I do makes a difference to a lot of people who are less fortunate than me.

In many cases, the best we can do to improve the situation is to simply to do our jobs better.

PS: I know that you don't like critical comments on your blog and having known that, I shouldn't have made a critical comment. But this is an 'issues blog', I couldn't stop myself :)

Karthik said...

At most what people would do is contribute monetarily to NGO's (like CRY).

I second Mathew's opinion. Give the government a free hand to force people into following it (like in Singapore).

silverine said...

Mathew: LOL on that closing line! And awesomely summarised too! When I hear of the community involvement abroad…I realize where we are lacking.

Philip: This can hardly be called criticism! :) What I meant by that was people critiquing the post when they have the choice to not read it! Reg your comment...by involvement I meant making and or joining local self interest bodies to nurture your community. And I feel the thought that “I am working hard and paying my taxes” should extend to doing some community work too. I know we do not have such things here, but if initiatives are successful then it can become a precedent!

Karthik: I third that but in our country the govt tries to woo voters by letting them get away anything and giving freebies at the expense of the public exchequer. Hence they get spoilt! In blr, slum dwellers don’t have to pay for water and they waste colossal amounts while we pay through our nose per liter.

"At most what people would do is contribute monetarily to NGO's" You are right that right now there is no place for participation in public life and hence we contribute our mite to NGO's...but I feel that has to change to something more proactive!

Karthik Sivaramakrishnan said...

'I' for Indian.

kochuthresiamma p .j said...

dont agree with u on many scores- like philip said, we contribute our own mite, our own way.
think of the people we interact with on a day to day basis. your maid for eg. comes with the type of problem u cited in achuvinte amma - do u just shrug ur shoulders and leave her to her fate? wont u contact authorities or some women's rights bodies to rescue her? a colleague of yours has a serious problem-do u just look the other way? if a student of mine going thru some trouble, i cant even imagine myself or any of my colleagues not getting proactive about it. in our own little circles we do go that extra mile to make life better/easier for someone.

besides all these, think of the contributions we make to the ngo's, disaster aids etc.

in the condominium where i live, most people r members of some club/organisation/groups which do social service.

no silverine. we dont live in our little holes.

mathew said...

I think you are missing the point of the post. The point is not about being direct or indirect in which we contribute to the society.Agreed when we donate money to some NGO we are contributing on our little way..It will help someone in the end. But thinking harder , I think it is still an easy way out..an obligation to the society!

and talking of helping others..helping our maid..helping our friends..helping our colleagues in office..YES!! but helping a complete stranger, I dont see that coming from most people.It is sad that in this world even friends are an investment where you seek returns!!

There are more people singing hymns about the Lord than doing anything what the Lord really would have like us to do!!

Deepti said...

More than civic sense its the need to help others which is lacking. An overall sense of its someone else's problem type attitude. Here in office we have a small social cause which I am a part of, I was given the responsibility to Collect funds and you should have really seeen the sorrow people who earn lakhs had in shelling 500 bucks. It was a real eye opener :)
Sorry for such a long comment

silverine said...

Kochuthresiamma pj: While I completely agree with you that we all do our mite to people who need our help, I was talking of our mite to the society! Like Mathew put it so eloquently "helping a complete stranger" And by this I don't mean helping someone who has fallen on the road. But something more larger and more tangible. In Bangalore the govt has cried itself hoarse telling people to segregate garbage. No one does it and people furtively throw garbage in drains leading to the famous flash floods that claimed many an innocent lives! Concerted campaigns by the govt to stop wastage of drinking water has come to naught! People still wash cars and household periphery with copious amounts of water when they can do the same with a sweeping or dusting! I can give you thousands of examples like this. Just look at the govt service advertisements and you can spot our laxity as a community!

Mathew: Well said!! Thank you! :)

Deepti: Thats a very nice thing you are doing! Even I take active part in it and I am now a part of an initiative to take technology to the villages. And what you have observed reg donations is something I have seen too!

kochuthresiamma p .j said...

civic sense we lack. i agree.we have no qualms about wasting resources. i agree.all that is part of social responsibility. i agree. but are we totally devoid of a sense of social responsibility? that 'complete stranger' bit - when we organise aid, or gather clothes, food for institutions which take care of totally marginalised people, arent we doing it for the complete stranger? i used visit one such institution near kottayam medic coll run by a sub staff of the med college which does amazing work for the discarded and rejected patients- you'll be amazed at the huge number of volunteers from all walks of life. it is on account of their voluntary service that the institution has no shortage of manpower.and they stand to gain nothing by it-monetarily, materially or even in terms of recognition by way of certificates or grace marks for students.
it is not that we want to live like islands-it's just that we do not not how to channelise our concern for humanity.
true our civic sense is shameful. but i think there is a serious lapse on the part of the govt.too. just the other day, i had some snacks and sweets and wanted to dispose of the wrappings in a bin as i walked down the street in the busy shopping street. finding no bin, i had to put them in my handbag - tho i felt foolish doing it in the midst of a shamefully littered strech of more than a kilometre.
incidentally, i forgot to remove them from my handbag and found ants crawling out of it when i took it out a few days later:-)

Jiby said...

before i get to the topic of your post, a brilliant analogy you have used there comparing humans to mice. i call gems like these as the magic that bloggers can do...you would strain to find such writing in the mainstream media!

i think our working population is a tired lot. other than students, its so hard to spot a smiling adult face in the crowds...telling such people to do a little social service is a ready invitation to get a slap on the face.

Anoop G said...

One more case of exploitation..


freespirit said...

I see this has snowballed into a huge discussion, and here are my 2 cents. While I was with TCS, I've worked in a pretty dedicated manner for two of its initiatives for children and have come to realize that today, it indeed is an age of realization. I have seen that a lot of people are willing to help. A lot!

But all of em in small ways, some monetarily, some with a bit of effort and time. But try to get people involved in organized volunteering, and you'd be in for big dissapointments. And its 'time' that no one has today. I wouldnt say its easy to take out those 2 hrs each weekend to do something good, but it is definitely possible. I've, in fact, seen the magic those 2 hours can create!

I think a lot of our society is ready to go that extra mile to help out, all they need is a small push, a bit of persuasion.

silverine said...

Kochuthresiamma pj and Freespirit: I think most of us help out in some way or the other in such initiatives. But that is helping a fellow human being. What are we doing for the community? Do we respect that train seat as our own sofa back home? Do we use that public toilet like out own? Do we treat the roads like our own frontyard! Do we try not to get better advantages for us by bribing? It is always "we" never "us"! When we start respecting our fellow strangers right to a clean public toilet, road and merit then only will we start living outside our holes!

Jiby: Thank you! :)

Anoop: The link is broken!

Anonymous said...

Agree with you 100%. Urban Indians lack social sense. There is zero involvement in social bodies. In the recent K'taka elections, in Bangalore, 40% of the total electoral roll voted. Why the 60% did not vote? Because politicians are corrupt? Then the 60% could have fielded a candidate and she would have won easily. But the thing is, they are not actually interested. They are so immersed in their personal lives.

Whatever the reason is, something is very wrong in our cities' social setup.

[i]In blr, slum dwellers don’t have to pay for water and they waste colossal amounts while we pay through our nose per liter. [/i]

This may be true, but the reality is, public supply water does not come most of the time. Also in the slums there is no "huge sump" system- in my house there is a huge sump which can accomodate 5000 L of water and it'll get filled if corporation water comes for a night and it's good enough to serve us for one full week. The slums dont have such a system, they collect water in buckets. In the slums nearby my house, I see people waiting in long queues with a few buckets in hand and save it for the next couple of days. While I, a software engineer, would call a tanker by myself ( if corp water is not avaliable), all for my house, asking them to deliver within an hour.

Anonymous said...

Just think- what if we had a jury-based-justice-system a la USA? Indians would have made great jurors!! ( dread at the thought)

Anonymous said...

@Kochuthresiamma PJ

Please read this to understand!

Anonymous said...

oops broken link. Read it here!

Prabhat said...

I am a first time visitor to your blog and find it very interesting and relevant.

I see many ppl getting annoyed by the statement that "city ppl lack civic sense" and "we don't do social service". I would like to thank those who are already doing it. But, what is %age of such ppl? Then, it becomes moral responsibility of these ppl to inspire more to come forward to join the team. The day each one of use start doing something for the society directly, above statement would be truly false.

Also, just paying taxes and sending donations is not the way to take care of society. Do we take care of our own house by paying for expenses only? The day we consider the society our own house, new thoughts will start flowing and this world will become a beautiful place to live.